Advantages & Disadvantages of Biological Control
Whether they be insects, weeds, or otherwise, pests are annoying. Even more than that, they can devastate the world's ecosystems and agriculture by disrupting the fragile balance sustained by the natural diversity (or intended lack thereof) of organisms. So how do we control all these pests? Why, biologically of course! Biological control is the use of a pest's natural predators in controlling their populations in order to minimize their impact on economic and environmental practices. It's an alternative to pesticides and poisons that can offer a few distinct advantages, as well as disadvantages.
Advantages of Biological Control:
- Biological control is a very specific strategy. The vast majority of the time, whatever predator is introduced will only control the population of the pest they are meant to target, making it a green alternative to chemical or mechanical control methods. For example, whereas weed killing chemicals can also destroy fruit-bearing plants, biological control allows the fruit to be left uninterrupted while the weeds are destroyed.
- Natural enemies introduced to the environment are capable of sustaining themselves, often by reducing whatever pest population they are supposed to manage. This means that after the initial introduction, very little effort is required to keep the system running fluidly. It also means that biological control can be kept in place for a much longer time than other methods of pest control.
- Biological control can be cost effective in the long run. Although it may cost a bit to introduce a new species to an environment, it's a tactic that only needs to be applied once due to its self-perpetuating nature.
- Most important of all, it's effective. Whatever pest population you want controlled will no doubt be controlled. Because the predator introduced will be naturally inclined to target the pests, very often you'll see the pest population dwindle.
Disadvantages of Biological Control:
- Biological control can be fickle. Ultimately, you can't control whatever natural enemy you set loose in an ecosystem. While it's supposed to manage one pest, there is always the possibility that your predator will switch to a different target - they might decide eating your crops instead of the insects infesting them is a better plan! Not only that, but in introducing a new species to an environment, there runs the risk of disrupting the natural food chain.
- It's a slow process. It takes a lot of time and patience for the biological agents to work their magic on a pest population, whereas other methods like pesticides work provide immediate results. The upside to this is the long-term effect biological control provides.
- If you're looking to completely wipe out a pest, biological control is not the right choice. Predators can only survive if there is something to eat, so destroying their food population would risk their own safety. Therefore, they can only reduce the number of harmful pests.
- While it is cheap in the long run, the process of actually setting up a biological control system is a costly endeavor. A lot of planning an money goes into developing a successful system.
Specific to a particular pest
Can sometimes fail in its specificity
It's a slow process
Cheap after startup
Expensive at startup
It works most of the time
Doesn't completely destroy a pest
In the end, it's up to the person with the pest problem to determine whether the advantages of biological control outweigh its disadvantages!